Iraq 2: Sanctions and Bombing 1990-2003


[Second essay of recent history of western intervention and war crimes in Iraq as background to the current chaos of IS etc.]

Sanctions and Bombing 1990-2003

Where are our human rights here in Iraq? We have no electricity, no clean water, no trains, no safe cars, an environment which is being destroyed, and you are bombing us every day. I tell you, we would rather have a real war than this slow death. This is genocide.
– Iraqi civilian Nasra al-Sa’adoun 1999 (cited in Nikki van der Gaag, ‘Iraq- The pride and the pain’)

I don’t want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.
– from the 1998 statement of resignation of Denis Halliday, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq

…we think the price is worth it.
– Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to UN under President Clinton, in 1996 on the relationship between the 500,000 children killed by UN sanctions and the political benefits to the US ruling elites (aka the ‘national interest’)

Under pressure from the US, Great Britain and France, the UN Security Council in 1990 imposed ‘the most savage economic sanctions ever imposed by the United Nations’ on Iraq to weaken Saddam Hussein and force him to pull out of Kuwait. The Security Council ‘ordered that food and medical supplies to Iraq be intercepted – in complete contravention of international law, including the Geneva Convention and the UN Charter itself.’ These sanctions remained after the 1991 Gulf War and under the Clinton-Gore administration. Ostensibly, the sanctions remained in place because the Saddam regime was not complying with UN resolutions regarding its disarmament. They were obviously also meant to control and weaken the regime. In fact, they actually consolidated Saddam’s dictatorial position within Iraq.

They were the only sanctions of the 20th century imposed as a complete embargo on almost ALL trade rather than only on particular goods or areas. Already bombed back into the pre-industrial age, the heavily import-dependent Iraqi people were now also denied the basic requirements of survival.

The sanctions regime stopped the import of spare parts for electricity, water and telephone infrastructure, medicines, pain killers, antiseptics, water purification additives. Polio, cholera, typhoid returned with a vengeance. Malnutrition and hunger spread. Cancer rates soared due to the DU weapons used, and the import of cancer drugs was prohibited under the ‘dual use’ (potential weapon use) rule. Under the ‘oil for food’ program agreed to in 1995, UN mine-detecting dogs in northern Iraq were allocated more food per head than Iraqi people, according to Benon Sevon, the Director of the Iraq Programme.

As a direct result, according to a 1999 UNICEF study, there was a rise in the mortality rate for children under five from 48 per 1,000 in 1990 to 122 per 1,000 in 1997, and a rise in the child malnourishment rate of 73% since 1991, with one in four children malnourished. The maternal mortality rate more than doubled from 50 per 100,000 live births in 1989 to 117 in 1997. At that time, UNICEF estimated that between 5,000 and 6,000 children were dying each month as a direct result of sanctions, a fact that led the then UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Denis Halliday, to resign from his post in late 1998.

Halliday resigned with the comment: ‘I am resigning because the policy of economic sanctions is […] destroying an entire society. Five thousand children are dying every month […] I don’t want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.’ He later noted how the UN sanctions both violated the UN Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights and was actually a war, ‘through the United Nations’, targeting civilians, targeting children and thus ‘a monstrous situation, for the United Nations, for the Western world, for all of us who are part of some democratic system, who are in fact responsible for the policies of our governments and the implementation of sanctions on Iraq.’

His successor, Hans von Sponeck, also resigned with similar comments in 2000, as did Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Programme in Iraq, saying she could no longer tolerate what was being done to the Iraqi people. Such collective action was unprecedented.

The total number of Iraqi victims of the sanctions regime up to 2003 has been estimated as being over 1 million people, with almost half of these being children under five.

As usual, double standards prevailed and Western corporate media tended to pass over these horrific facts with benign indifference. Both Labor and conservative Australian governments (and, of course, the local corporate media in their usual supportive role) proudly participated in this state terrorism: they helped implement the near-genocidal sanctions regime with the ongoing deployment of naval vessels.

The then US Ambassador to the UN and later Secretary of State under President Clinton, Madeleine Albright, quite accurately considered sanctions ‘amongst the most powerful and lethal weapons in our armory’. In an interview with Lesley Stahl on CBS’s 60 Minutes on 12 May 1996, she, in response to Stahl’s question about whether the 500,000 Iraqi child victims of sanctions (a figure that, he pointed out, surpassed Hiroshima’s tally) were worth ‘the price’, notoriously answered as follows: ‘I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.’ Seldom has the equivalence of imperial realpolitik and mass murder been stated with such clarity. CBS has since refused to allow the videotape of the interview with Albright to be shown again.

In Clinton’s ‘Operation Desert Fox’, from late 1998 onwards, the US and Britain flew almost daily illegal bombing sorties over so-called ‘no-fly zones’ in Iraq without any UN backing. The death toll after only one month was over 10,000.

Total Iraqi Civilian Deaths As A Result of US/UN Sanctions: over 1 million (over 500,000 children under five)


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on July 22, 2015.

11 Responses to “Iraq 2: Sanctions and Bombing 1990-2003”

  1. Peter . This is too terrible to contemplate. We are all implicated – which may be sad- but how do we bear this guilt? We shrug it off as someone else’s fault and so the spectre of Isis looms like Banquos ghost. We should be appalled. Like Mac we deny our undeniable guilt. We feel so disempowered we just accept the legacy of ordinary innocent people being killed in masses EVERY DAY. STILL. I can’t say more at present. We are all guilty of this.

    • Hi Nick. Many thanks for your comment. All ‘implicated’ in some way, perhaps. All ‘guilty’, I don’t agree. I think we must make some distinctions in these matters, or else everything becomes a little murky and confused with some undefined ‘we’. The ‘we’ needs to be defined, and distinguished from the ‘they’. I don’t think the up to 30 million of us globally who (unsuccessfully) demonstrated against the Iraq invasion in 2003, for example, can in any way be compared to ‘them’, i.e. the order-giving elites who sent the bombers and armies and are guilty of wars of aggression, genocidal sanctions, torture, breaking international law and crimes against humanity. Even order-takers like common soldiers, although guilty of breaking international law, share, unless engaged in war crimes, less culpability in my view than the order-givers. Only the former are, on occasion, punished, the latter, if US-Brit, never. ‘We’ anti-war people could criticize ourselves for not having acted more forcefully and imaginatively and continuously, but should avoid any unwarranted guilt trips. There is only so much anyone can do without wholesale system change towards a true, participatory democracy in which we call the shots and practise international solidarity. (BTW who is ‘Mac?)

      • Good thanks for a sane perspective! Mac was Macbeth continuing that Banquo ref. He called the shots so carried the can; he became self-aware..

        I protested in 2003 to no avail. So I’m implicated but NOT guilty. The terrible mess has still to be lived through by the people there in the various war zones, by virtue of their being there close at hand: And with by us further away and out of the direct lines of fire or radiation aftereffects. Large numbers of people don’t know where to begin with this situation.

  2. I see why nick feels guilty…I do as well…I have a comfortable lifestyle here in the U.S. becuz of these power hungry freaks in charge…while most of the planet suffers…were placated and dumbed down and what good does saying anything do anyway…no one listens!?
    Learning history puts everything into perspective, explains and answers questions…but nothing changes…do you think there are any solutions?

    • Hi Kristy, good to hear from you. Yep, I think we all feel guilty about being part of the global middle class of planet-consumers and knowing what suffering is entailed elsewhere because of this, don’t we? One of the many feelings making up our daily post-modern mix (sadness, anger, disgust, emptiness, pleasure at being right etc plus the usual quick epiphanies and happinesses and wonderments…).

      You say WE are ‘placated and dumbed down’, but are you, am I, is Nick? So who is ‘we’? And maybe millions of those seemingly placated and dumbed down, aren’t really either? Just surviving…

      Think there may be two levels here that we often mix up and should distinguish more often. The level of socially unnecessary suffering due to class and power structures. These we can and should change together (of course you know I think there are social solutions, albeit no ‘perfect’ or ‘final’ ones, the key ones being inner change and collective self-organisation and self-action).

      Then there is the level of suffering beyond the social-historical, the suffering given with just being human, self-aware, neurotic, aware of transience and death and the way Nature works etc. Here there can be no ‘solutions’ (except for the fundamentalists and feel-good behaviourists and ‘lifestyle coaches’ of all persuasions), rather a working-at-wisdom, a ‘negative capability’ (the willingness to let-things-be without an irritated quick reaching out for ‘solutions’), a working at letting-go, a creative emptiness…In all this I find a sense of inherent ambiguity, paradox, dilemmas, irony, humour helps. All this I find in good novels and poems too.

      • Peter. Thanks for the help you’re bringing us all here, trying to cope with this wonderful world we’re thrown into. Much of it has been messed up; just being positively realistic is a small step ‘for mankind’ generally and for our own sense of self- worth. Being a part of something precious, maybe unique in the galaxy, is something itself to be appreciated for itself. l am heartened by the level of response your work evokes: Knowing what we face is another step away from ignorance, out of Plato’s cave perhaps… slowly, slowly…

      • Many thanks, Nick and a hearty yes! to your “Being a part of something precious, maybe unique in the galaxy, is something itself to be appreciated for itself”. I strongly recommend Walt Whitman’s long poem ‘Song of Myself’ from Leaves of Grass, for more of such sentiment… The mysteries of wonder-and-suffering…All the best.

  3. hey peter…”one of many feelings making up this post-modern mix”, is certainly true…!
    still, i can’t help but feel that i, and most of those i encounter with access to life’s basic amenities and more, are placated, dumbed down, compliant, or kept ignorant thru the media, the assault on schools or simply treading the daily rat race of debt…
    who has time/inclination for good novels and poems, the arts or self-awareness anymore…?
    not to mention the time or inclination to learn about alternatives to capitalism…the resistance is huge and diverse…and yes, most are just surviving/coping…many destructively self-medicating or following those feel-good lifestyle coaches…
    but how many question, outright, the morality of a system built on the backs of others…or by luck of birth, race, gender or class…other than justifying it as “survival of the fittest”…?
    so why shouldn’t there be local/global discussions about concrete economic solutions revolving around collective self-organization…is it pie in the sky to think we could be pro-active in facilitating a change in consciousness by promoting alternative, participatory systems to capitalism…?
    how else will people know “tina” is not the only option…or of the pitfalls inherent to hierarchical/centrally controlled systems ?
    i get so frustrated hearing all the latest horrors of capitalism without also hearing about possible alternatives as “solutions” to the problems…and not merely bandaids or reforms either…
    i found alternative solutions to many “givens/tinas” throughout my life…religion, school, foods, healthcare…so why not alternative economic methods of organizing ourselves collectively/cooperatively as well as socially…?
    i’m thinking they’re the two sides of the same coin…pun intended !

    • Agree with all you say, Kristi, can’t see the opposition …”so why shouldn’t there be local/global discussions….why is it pie in the sky…why not alternative economic methods…” – of course there should, why not, wonderful, more discussions, let a 1000 flowers bloom… are you referring to the failed IOPS venture perhaps? Dunno. We are all isolated, n’est-ce pas? It’s all a matter of nuances in what we say/write/think to whom when where why, right? I have no Grand Master Plan. Nor has anybody else. Self-organise. There are many doing it throughout the world, tho maybe not here in Bundanoon or where you are in Florida. Maybe our lot will be the last to organise, who knows. I’ve had a go in my life. Now I’m writing poems, essays. I’m pretty old now, sight going slowly, half an asshole left…Spring soon, apple blossoms, bees, honey, the mysteries of wonder-and-suffering, ‘there has never been more inception’, never more end(time)’ than Now (pace Whitman), Nowever. No hope, no despair, at the very bottom of the ocean, looking upwards, currents, light…Take care, Peter

  4. No, no opposition, not with you anyway…guess I was hoping you did have the master plan tho!
    “We are all isolated”…i think that’s it…ironically, I feel less isolated when I’m by myself with nature than I do when I’m with people…but then I start feeling guilty that I have the good fortune to commune with nature and frustrated that humans are systematically/willfully destroying her…
    Frustrated that I can read and converse with my online community and feel connected and have logical answers/solutions and unable to communicate it to my “real” community…
    I lose my patience with people who don’t see the injustice, the imbalance, the necessity to get off our asses and change!
    And yep…it’s a real shame that iops is a ghost town…I learned a lot there…and I met you there!!!
    So I guess it’s still a matter of patience and planting seeds…)heavy sigh(…
    I’m leaving my rural KY paradise and heading back to the Florida rat race in a few days…can feel the anxiety building…
    Take care, be well…

    • Thoroughly know what you mean about sense of isolation and not being able to communicate with your ‘real’ community, Kristi. Have always found much more ‘community’ with writers, books, many long dead than with people around me…Will post a poem for you in response to your comment that perhaps says it better than I can in prose, as the next blog after the Pinter one. Hang in there and mind the rat jostle…

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